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National Guard Chief Visits New York’s 106th Rescue Wing

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Monica Dalberg, Airman 1st Class Sarah McKernan and Maj. Michael O’Hagan,
  • New York National Guard

WESTHAMPTON BEACH, N.Y. – The National Guard’s top officer, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, spent Nov. 5 at Gabreski Air National Guard Base with 106th Rescue Wing Airmen.

Hokanson flew on an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter to observe rescue scenarios, lunched with some Airmen, and held a town hall meeting with the wing’s councils representing different tiers of rank from Airman to chief.

Master Sgt. Kenny Griego, 106th senior noncommissioned officer of the quarter, got to fly with Hokanson in his role as a special mission aviator, performing such duties as flight engineer and aerial gunner.

“It’s not every day you get to fly with the highest-ranking person in your organization. The general was very interested in us and our mission,” said Griego.

Tech Sgt. Carley Esposito, a client systems technician for the wing’s communications flight, said she was pleased to get the opportunity to have lunch with the general along with five other Airmen.

“It was nice to see, on a personal level, that the general wanted to know more about us outside of what we do in uniform. It was nice to know he really cared on that level,” Esposito said.

Speaking to Airmen at the town hall later in the day, Hokanson said the best thing he gets to do is “see our Airmen and our Soldiers who work in the Guard.”

“I’m the guy that gets to tell your story in the Pentagon, and it is an amazing story to tell,“ he said. “For me to get a chance to go out today with everybody and see all the work that you guys do is really incredible.”

Hokanson praised the 106th Airmen for training with the Brazilian military during Brazil’s Exercise Tapio in 2021 and 2022.

According to exercise officials, the exercise was the largest U.S. military engagement with Brazil since World War II.

The wing participated as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, which pairs state Guard forces with other nation’s militaries.

These training exercises are strategically important for the United States, Hokanson said.

Hokanson’s wife, Kelly, met with wing members and spouses to discuss health care, mental health and child- care issues that affect Guard families.

She said a key issue for her husband is ensuring that Guard Soldiers and Airmen and their families get the same access to health care as active-duty military people.

She said a key issue for her husband is ensuring that Guard Soldiers and Airmen and their families get the same access to health care as active-duty military people.

“Anyone on active duty has health coverage,” she said. “But some of our force do not have health coverage.”

Col. Shawn Fitzgerald, the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing, said the wing was honored to host the Hokansons.

“Mrs. Hokanson was also able to meet with several of our volunteer key spouses and other community stakeholders who have continually showed their support for our wing,” he said.

Hokanson flew a training mission on an HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter that demonstrated a range of 106th Rescue Wing capabilities.

The demonstration included a parachute jump, a water rescue, aerial refueling of an HH-60G by an HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue airplane, and a land rescue involving high mobility tactical vehicles operated by pararescuemen.

“It was great to get to showcase the recovery of two ‘survivors,’ aerial gunnery, aerial refueling, daytime water rescue, and land rescue,” Greco said.

Wing leaders briefed Hokanson about the benefits of modernizing the wing’s equipment with the HH-60W version of the Pave Hawk.

The newer version of the search and rescue helicopter has greater fuel capacity for a longer range, better hovering capability, more advanced survivability and defense systems, better communications, higher resolution sensors, and upgraded ballistic protection.

Hokanson presented his chief of the National Guard Bureau coin to outstanding performers from the 106th maintenance group for keeping the wing combat-ready.

These Airmen were instrumental in the wing flying 103% of their assigned flying hours for the year.

“One thing I try and remind people is the primary mission of the National Guard is to fight and win our nation’s wars,” said Hokanson. “Because we are prepared for that, we can do just about anything our country asks us to do.”